When golfers tee off Thursday morning in the 2014 US Open Championship, they will see a Pinehurst No. 2 golf course which is drastically different from the last time our national golf championship was played there in 2005. It will also be a clear departure from everything a US Open has been reputed to be.
Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, in Pinehurst, NC, was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1907. Ross’s philosophy was to provide golfers with strategic choices—to give them more than one way to navigate each and every hole on his golf course. Utilizing the natural lay of the land with native grasses and sandy soil, his Pinehurst No. 2 creation epitomized his philosophy in every way. Over the years, however, modern technology and modern tastes morphed Pinehurst No. 2 into the style of golf course that is seen today at most every country club and resort in the nation. Fairways were narrow, the rough was long and thick, and the character of the natural terrain was all but lost.
In 2010, Pinehurst enlisted the service of golf course designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to help restore their No. 2 course to its former glory. According to players, officials and fans who have had a chance to sample the new changes, the restoration has been a rousing success. Even though the restoration was complete in 2011, this year’s US Open Championship will be the first time the world will get a chance to see the new and different Pinehurst No. 2.
Observers of any past US Open Championship are used to seeing the event contested over narrow fairways, thick roughs and slippery greens. The tournament always put a premium on accurate drives and, in essence, penalized a player for missing the fairway by even a few inches. In restoring Pinehurst No. 2, Coore and Crenshaw have widened the fairways and taken out every bit of rough. The grass at Pinehurst No. 2 will have two different heights—the greens and the fairways. That is not to say that there will not be trouble for a stray tee shot. Golfers who do not find the fairway will now be subject to a second shot from either sand, native grasses, pine straw, wire grass or any combination of those.
In restoring the course to its natural state, Coore and Crenshaw have had a hand in making the area friendly to the environment. By reintroducing Pinehurst’s natural areas to the golf course, the design team removed 35 acres of irrigated turf, which will drastically reduce water usage. More than 200,000 wire grass plants were added to the landscape. Overseeding has been eliminated, which will mean firm, fast conditions throughout the year. In another ecological move, cart paths were re-routed and concrete was removed.
Some of the more important differences, insofar as the playing of the US Open Championship is concerned, include the addition of 13 new tees, which will lengthen the distance of Pinehurst No. 2 from 7,214 yards to 7,565. There are also bunkers which have been restored, reshaped or eliminated throughout the golf course. Many will sport more jagged edges which will more closely shadow the look of the original bunkers of the early 1900s. There may, however, be controversy looming on the horizon regarding bunker play in the new design. Because the rough has been restored to its natural state, many of the bunkers now blend with the sand of the native terrain. There will be times when a player will have a hard time discerning whether his ball lies in the bunker or simply in the rough. This is important to know because if your ball lies in a bunker, you are not allowed to ground your club before you hit the ball. To help in the matter, the US Open will send a rules official with each group to help expedite any disputes players may have about where their ball lies.
Many have compared the course’s new incarnation to the look and feel of an inland links course—something more likely seen in the British Isles than the southeastern corner of the United States. The world will get a first-hand look starting Thursday, as the 2014 US Open tees off on a very different Pinehurst No. 2 golf course.
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Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky